[Review] The Woman in the Dunes, by Kōbō Abe

[Review] The Woman in the Dunes, by Kōbō AbeThe Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe
Published by Charles E. Tuttle on 1982 (first published 1962)
Genres: Classic, Japanese literature, Magical realism
Pages: 239
The verdict: four-stars
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An amateur entomologist takes a holiday in order to find a rare beetle. He ends up in a seaside village, and after supposedly missing the last bus back, he is offered a place to stay in this village that is being swallowed up by the dunes. It soon dawns upon him that he is held prisoner, condemned to shovel sand to prevent the village from disappearing.

The Woman in the Dunes was a book I had intended to read for a long time… and then it ended up being the winner of the The Classics Club Spin. Perfect!

I had no idea what to expect. I knew the book was a classic, that many people thought it was a masterpiece, and that I would be reading it sometime in the future. The plot? No clue. ‘Something with magical-realism,’ I’d heard, so I would probably like it, right?

The Woman in the Dunes ill. by Machi AbeWell, was I in for a surprise. This book gave me the creeps. For one, I don’t like sand. I won’t say I hate it, but I can do without the beach and sand between my sandwich. And this book has a lot of sand. Add to that being locked up, sad undertones, and a nice kafka-esque plot, and you’ve got the ingredients to freak me out. It’s not horror, but I was wholly expecting nightmares (thankfully that didn’t happen).

The book is brilliantly written. The style starts out very plain and straightforward. Near the end, it becomes more philosophical, which really is what you want from this story at that point. The ending is what you will begin to expect.

Additionally, my edition has illustrations by Machi Abe, Kōbō’s wife. It is amazing how well they fit the atmosphere of the book (in other words: simple but ominous).

The Classics club Japanese Literature Challenge 8Can’t stand kafka-esque plots? Stay away. Although I wasn’t aware of this plot and I’m overall not a fan of books that frustrate me. I might not have picked it up had I known. But in the end I loved how this book made me feel (although I was really quite happy to finish it).


    • I definitely recommend it! If you enjoy magical-realism you might also want to try Haruki Murakami or Banana Yoshimoto (couldn’t remember if you’ve read those already or not) 🙂

  1. I read this book years ago, and can’t remember enough if it to comment with great elaboration, other than to say it was definitely creepy and definitely wonderful at the same time. And you’re right, the illustrations mark the mood perfectly!

    • It’s quite old, first published in in 1962. I’ve never personally seen a recent edition, but apparently Penguin Classics published one in 2006 and Vintage in 2011. Those would be your best bets I think 🙂

  2. I really, really enjoyed the book! I was fascinated by the man’s behaviour, the way he always tries to rationalize the situation and pretend he has it under control; how he makes excuses to justify his actions (especially with the woman), put the blame on her or on the villagers. I also loved how the whole book was a reflection on life, and how it got detached from our basics needs, pains and pleasures. Thank you so much for letting me know this novel!
    Angélique recently posted… The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto [Japan]My Profile

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